Brief History: Elgin National Watch Company
Including Elgin Watch Serial Numbers and Production Dates
1864 - 1967
The Elgin Watch Company (also known as the Elgin National Watch Company) was the largest American watch manufacturer in terms of total production volume. In fact, Elgin produced approximately one-half of the total number of better-quality pocket watches manufactured in the United States. Total production over their 100 years of operation reached 60 million watches! This makes Elgin one of the most commonly collected vintage watches since there are still so many examples available at reasonable prices.
The Elgin National Watch Company was founded in 1864 in Elgin, Illinois as the National Watch Company, and some of the organizers were later to become the some of the biggest names in the American watch industry: J. C. Adams, P. S. Bartlett, D. G. Currier, Otis Hoyt, and Charles H. Mason, with financial backing from former Chicago Mayor Benjamin W. Raymond. The factory for the National watch company was completed in 1866, and the first movement produced was an 18-size B. W. Raymond model which sold in April of 1867 for the astounding price of $115. This identical watch, serial number 101, was sold at auction in New York in 1988 for $12,000. In 1874, the company officially changed their name to the Elgin National Watch Company, and that name remained until they stopped producing watches in the 1960's.
The "Working Man's" Watch
The Elgin Watch Company's success was not built on its production of the highest-grade watches, though some of their higher grades were top-quality, exquisitely made timepieces. Their success can be attributed to their huge production of low to mid-grade watches... 7 to 15-jewels. Together with the Waltham Watch Company, they dominated the huge market for mid-grade watches, producing over one-million per year during their peak years of production. Elgin watches remain extremely popular with collectors today because they are plentiful, can be obtained at reasonable prices, and can be relatively easily repaired due to the large number of watches and parts available.
Elgin shipped their first wristwatch in 1910, and later manufactured the first wrist watch to be qualified for railroad service, the grade 730A B. W. Raymond. Throughout their history, the Elgin National Watch Company was known for horological innovations. In 1958, they introduced the "DuraBalance," an ingenious design for a free-sprung balance (no regulator pins) which used spiral balance arms and small weights to govern the moment of inertia of the balance. They also produced the only American-made automatic wristwatch movements: grades 607, 618, 760, and 761. These movements featured bi-directional, full-rotor winding, and had two automatic winding gear ratios, which were automatically engaged as the mainspring tension increased.
The contributions of the Elgin National Watch Company to American Horological industry cannot be overstated. Many Elgin watches that were made over 100 years ago are still providing reliable and accurate daily service to their proud owners.
Swiss Elgin Watches
During the last few years that Elgin was in business (late 50's through mid-60's), they began to reduce their US production and began importing Swiss watch movements which were finished and labeled as Elgin watches. Much of this assembly work was done at a new Elgin plant in Elgin, South Carolina.
For more information on Swiss Elgin watches, including a listing of Swiss Elgin grades and their equivalent Swiss movement calibres, please view our Swiss Elgin page.
Elgin Watch Cases: Illinois Watch Case Company
The Illinois Watch Case Company of Elgin, Illinois should not be confused with the Elgin Watch Company. The Illinois Watch Case Company (I.W.C.Co) was a major manufacture in the city of Elgin, Illinois. It manufactured watch cases under many brands, such as "Elgin Giant," "Elgin Pride," "Tivoli," "Spartan," and "Elgin Commander." The use of the name "Elgin" in their brand names, or marking the cases with "Elgin USA" has often led people to believe that a watch was made by the Elgin National Watch Company when it was actually made by another manufacturer, or to think that a watch no longer has its original case because it is "now in an Elgin case." Keep in mind that watch movements and watch cases were usually made by different manufacturers. Elgin watches are entirely different than Illinois "Elgin" cases.
Modern Battery-Powered "Elgin" Watches
The Elgin National Watch Company went out of business in 1964. They never made any battery-powered, quartz watches. If you have a recently-purchased, modern Elgin watch, please see our Modern Elgin Watch page for more information.
Elgin National Watch Company
Elgin Watch Serial Numbers and Production Dates
Be sure to use the serial number on the movement (the works) of the watch. Do not use the serial number from the case.
Can’t find your serial number in the table? Click here for an explanation and example of how to use our serial number tables.
Need help finding the serial number on your watch? Click here for instructions on how to identify and open most common case types.
In the 1930s, Elgin began using a letter prefix to replace the "millions" digits on their serial numbers. So if your Elgin watch has a serial number starting with a letter, you must determine the millions digits from the table below in order to determine the full serial number.
|X||38 or 39|
|C, E, T or Y||42|
At Renaissance Watch Repair, we are experts in the repair and restoration of vintage watches made by the Elgin National Watch Company. Please contact us if you have any questions about the repair of your Elgin watch.